Cape Town has the most comprehensive dataset of public transport in the world thanks to a recent project by WhereIsMyTransport.
The company, which is based in De Waterkant, near the city centre, took just under a month to map 657 minibus taxi routes.
Minibus taxis, according to the City of Cape Town, are by far the most used form of public transport in the city, with thousands of people relying on them every day.
According to WhereIsMyTransport, the aim of the project was to collect the route, frequency, fare, and common stopping point data for the entire minibus taxi network in Cape Town. Madeline Zhu head of communications at WhereIsMyTransport, said: “We work with operators of more formal transport modes like buses and trains to include their data, but we always knew that data on the taxis would be key to having a complete picture of mobility in any emerging city where these modes are very, very prevalent. So, this was the natural next step for us.
“The map was an outgrowth of this aim. We thought it would make a great visual centrepiece for the conversation that we wanted to have. The map itself, which only represents a subset of the routes we collected, is not intended for daily use.
We would rather have people build journey planning apps using the data, which can access all the information which can’t fit on one map,” said Ms Zhu.
According to the data they have collected, there are 103 routes running through the City Bowl while there are five routes running through Sea Point.
Brett Herron, mayco committee member for transport and urban development, said thousands of commuters board minibus-taxis every day to get where they need to be.
“This is remarkable when one considers that the minibus-taxi industry provides an unscheduled transport service and that there is no central source of information about the routes and frequency of the service in the public realm.
“The next challenge is to come up with innovative solutions on how we can use the information about the minibus-taxi network to improve the integration between the informal and formal public transport modes in Cape Town. These solutions must make it easier for commuters to plan their routes across different modes – minibus-taxi, bus and rail – and must also convince more Capetonians to make use of public transport in general.”
It was a project supported by the City of Cape Town, said Mr Herron. The City’s Transport and Urban Development Authority (TDA) also recently co-sponsored a hackathon, which took place in Woodstock earlier this month, and formed part of the Global Public Transport Hackathon Series. The purpose was to explore proposals on how best to utilise and harness the information that is now available about the minibus-taxi industry in Cape Town.
“Cape Town now has the most comprehensive open public transport dataset in the world, thanks to the addition of the information about the 657 minibus-taxi routes to and from the 10 main public transport interchanges or taxi ranks in the city,” said Mr Herron.
Chairperson of Route 6 Taxi Association Henry “Hawk” Williams said he supports the WhereIsMyTransport project because information about routes and fares would be helpful for commuters. Mr Williams said that every day about 13 000 people used the taxis on Route 6. The association transported people from Mitchell’s Plain Town Centre to Cape Town, he added.
Mr Hawk said thousands of people use the taxis to get to work because they were quicker and cheaper. “This is currently the most dominant mode of transport. We have workers, pupils and students using the taxis. People rely on the taxis early in the mornings, during the day and in the evenings,” he said.
Mr Williams said that at the Mitchell’s Plain Transport Interchange, a guide explaining the routes would be beneficial to people who did not know where the taxis operated and what the cost might be.
“At the rank there are various taxis transporting people internally and externally. We have signage and markings on the taxis so the regulars will know where to go. But for the newbies and those wanting to go somewhere else, (the route map will be useful),” he said.
Mr Hawk said over the past 20 years the industry has changed significantly and that there were now more routes and drivers on the road. “Over the years, the demand had increased and because of that, we had to put more taxis on the road.
“We also have an official transport hub from where people can travel across the City and no longer have to take a link taxi. For example, (you can take) a taxi in Hanover Park to get to Town,” he said.
Ernestine Yearwood, from Tafelsig, said using the taxis was easier and cheaper compared to the buses and trains. “The WhereIsMyTransport project sounds interesting and will be helpful for people taking the taxi. Having the routes online or on an app will help people plan their trips and, most importantly, know where to go,” she said.
Ms Yearwood said her only concern was the behaviour of taxi drivers and the fare collectors (gaatjies). “Some of them are rude and very inconsiderate, especially the ‘gaatjies’. Personally, some of them do not have customer service skills and make people unhappy.
“The other concerns are drivers smoking in the van and driving really fast on the roads. We need to let them know we are not fruit and vegetables; we are humans,” she said.
Mr Williams said if commuters had experiences or concerns they could lodge a complaint with the taxi association. “Every taxi has a logo and a number – people can take this down and contact the association. Depending on the nature of the complaint, we will go through a disciplinary process.
“The association does have a constitution and always deals with the cases that are forwarded,” he said.
Chad Louw, from Sea Point, often travels to Mitchell’s Plain to visit family. He said when he took a taxi, he often asked people at the rank which taxi to take. “The only way you can get around these days is asking people; that is what I do. But, having the routes and taxis on my phone would be perfect getting around to various places,” he said.
He usually took the MyCiTi bus, but preferred the taxis because they were easier to use, and cheaper. “The taxis run all day and it is easy to find one and jump on it. I usually take the taxi to Mitchell’s Plain, town and to Sea Point,” he said.
Tandeka Balumane, who works in Tamboerskloof, travels from Makhaza, in Khayelistha, every day. She said the mapping of the taxi routes was a good idea but the payment system needed to be easier. “I think it is a good idea. There are lots of people who still use taxis because the train service is so poor. There needs to be more taxis actually. I still use taxis when I am in a rush. I take the bus because I have to have cash when I go on taxis. If they could have a card or ticket payment system that would work.”